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Behind the Screen

Sometimes you get hit with artist’s block, and other times you are just swamped and can’t jump into a big new project. Lately it’s been a bit of both, though mostly just too busy to get into a large project on my personal time. So I thought it would be a good exercise to begin taking old sketches and doodles I’ve done in my sketchbook and flesh them out a little further by painting over in Photoshop. I’ve been finding it to be a good way to keep me painting, but also, more and more, when I sit down to paint, I don’t want to think up something new entirely. I just want to paint something!

Typically, when I illustrate, I put a lot into research and figuring out detail, even if it isn’t entirely shown or featured. I need to know and understand it. It must be the prop-maker/sculptor in me. It’s a curse and a blessing. The blessing is that my illustrations are somewhat buildable. I tend to come up with costumes that you could feasibly wear, or maybe weapons you could actually make and use. But the downside is my illustrations can get stiff, clunky, overworked, and then lack an emotional punch.

Last year, I did some fan art and discovered it to be really freeing. I didn’t have to completely figure out the costume and props, I just had to make something cool, and I really had fun with it. This Ahsoka Tano piece took me a (long) day to do and was really satisfying.

When Wonder Woman came out I decided to give this idea a go again, but with this piece I really struggled. I’m fine with it, but my prop-maker/sculptor side came out too strongly and again I was focusing more on a new costume design spin, rather than just making a really engaging piece. It’s a lesson I’m still learning.

Painting over my doodles has been freeing for me to take something old, and put a fresh spin on it and not spend tons of time developing the initial idea and doing lots of research. They allow me to just jump right in and push some digital paint around.

Feathered Helmet

There’s not a whole lot behind this one, other than I love helmets - especially ones from the Iron Age Mediterranean. While it’s not based on a specific archeological find, you can probably see Greek and Celtic influence. I also wanted to play with reflections and baggy clothes. The garment would be of Mediterranean origin, but specifically the way Bedouin women wear them. These women will have metal decorative pieces that pull the front of the dress lower, making it a little more shapely and less of a giant bag.

When I began, I scanned in my sketch and started squishing and pulling it around in Photoshop’s Liquefy tool. I love Liquefy. It’s just such a fast way to move stuff around without losing too much information in your piece. Often when drawing something, your eyes will get used to a shape or feature even when it’s really jacked up, so I’ll flip it and bring it into Liquefy.

From there it was colorizing the sketch, and commencing the painting process. I normally don’t like going from gray scale to color because it loses some of the color depth that you can get from an under painting and can become flat and stiff looking. Lot’s of phenomenal artists go gray to color and make very strong compositions that way, but for me it is a pitfall because it’s technically comfortable. I find that throwing myself into a piece and painting my way out makes for some happy accidents of color, texture and composition. It’s also why I try to force myself to use fewer layers in Photoshop. Those techniques can cause me to stiffen up and get clunky. Maybe this is the case because these methods cater to the logical side of my brain and not the creative side, allowing it to drive the piece rather than play a supporting role. Or maybe I don't understand brains. J

Old Warrior

Again, helmets. Mmm! I see his hands nearly locked into a claw position like an old Amish Farmer. He probably lives in a small dirt floor hut and the most beautiful thing he owns is his helmet. His breath makes your brows furrow and eyes water. He was a lot of fun but with being so busy, I many times end up with only 30 minute snatches of time to work it here and there, so it can be hard to really plow through a piece.

With starting from gray scale again, I had to really shake off the restraints of the original and think about what this piece needed. The background was looking really gross, so I needed to lighten and then change my lighting on him. I think it worked out in the end for a fun exercise.


This was one of those sketches where you step back and recoil. The initial sketch was bad, but I had something going in my head that I thought could be cool. Liquefy to the rescue again. And this time around I knew I needed to ditch colorizing a gray scale sketch. Partially because I had nothing I liked about the initial sketch, but also because of reasons already mentioned. So I drew over (loosely) the sketch then Liquefied it, and started throwing in color underneath the line work layer.

With this exercise, my intent was not to spend lots of time but I liked what was happening here, so I took it far enough to hopefully not cause any cringing. Maybe in a few years I’ll look at it, cringe, and redo it.

This is more of a historical piece, though not based on any specific artifacts. Erase all those Biblical paintings with people in layers and layers of heavy fabric. This would be more correct to around the time of Abram or the Israelites in Egypt. It would be a really simple garment, almost a tube, but with part of one side open for an armhole, and part of one end sewn shut to rest on the shoulder. Headbands were apparently rad back then, so I looked into some Egyptian card weaving designs after a couple coworkers showed me the technique.

I also had fun playing with the light spilling through the fabric because I think it helps show more of her body language as she waits for a loved one.

I hope to do more of these in the future! If you enjoyed, please like, follow, comment, share, and all that. Thanks for reading!

Travis Wilson





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